Life and thoughts from a small-scale organic farm . . . and its farmers

This is a blog that explores ideas around the growing of food and community at Glen Valley Organic Farm.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Scenes from the farm

The farm is in all its splendor at the moment, so here are some images to show what's going on.

The onions are bulbing up. They respond to the shortening daylight. Our crop this year looks much better than the sad harvest of 2009.

We don't enjoy much tree fruit on the farm (apart from the abundance of apples in the fall). Although our peach trees produced no fruit this summer, our plum trees are full. Here is a typical branch of abundance.

It doesn't look like much now, but these beds contain many of our fall and winter crops: cauliflower, cabbages, broccoli and brussels sprouts. You can see the irrigation line and a few small transplants.

This is a view toward the north-west corner of the farm, from the centre-south end (the higher elevation point on the property). You can see the pastures and the crop fields just before the train (that's the CN mainline separating us from the Fraser River). Gorgeous mountains in the distance.

We plant flower belts in our fields to provide habitat to beneficial insects. The flowers include poppies, calendula, bachelor buttons, baby's breath and cosmos - plus more. This mix provides continuous flowering from late-June through the end of the season. Insects attracted include parasitic wasps and ladybugs.

An up-close shot of the flowers in the fields.

How to cut a fennel bulb

An eternal challenge for some people subscribed to our CSA has been the fennel bulb: how to cut it, how to cook it . . . why do we grow it?

I love fennel. It has to be one of the most aesthetically-pleasing veggies in our fields and at the market stand. And its scent and flavour is outstanding -- the anise added to a meal is a treat. Some customers tell us their children like eating fennel raw.

To aid in the fennel challenge for those new to this vegetable I photographed my lunch preparations yesterday and offer this tutorial on cutting fennel

A beautiful bulb of fennel ready to be used.

The first cut down the middle.

You can see the inner core -- it'll be removed after quartering the bulb.

The second cut to quarter the bulb.

Now you can see the inner core -- it gets cut out with an angled slice.

The quartered bulb, core removed.

And then what to do with the fennel? I coated these in egg and bread crumbs and then fried them. They went very nicely with some lemon juice and mayonnaise.

Other ideas: roast them with salmon or white fish (like halibut), add it to fish stock for chowders, roast it with other seasonal veggies like zucchini, potatoes and beets, or shred it and add to coleslaw.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Bissara (Fresh Fava Bean Dip)

Here's a recipe for using fava beans -- in abundance on the West Coast at the moment.

Bissara (Fresh Fava Bean Dip)

2 pounds fresh fava beans, shelled, peeled if large
3 tb fresh lemon juice
5 tb extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
pita wedges, sliced raw carrots, or crackers for serving

Fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to a boil. Blanch the beans for 2 or 3 minutes. Drain, reserving 3 tablespoons of the cooking liquid. Peel if the beans are large.

In a blender or food processor, combine half the beans, the reserved liquid and the lemon juice. (Add more liquid if you prefer a thinner dip.) Process, scraping down the sides with a spatula, until the mixture is fairly smooth. Add the remaining beans and the oil, and process until smooth.

Transfer to a serving bowl and stir in the salt and cumin. Sprinkle with the parsley. Serve with pita bread, vegetables, or crackers for dipping.

From Kitty Morse's Cooking at the Kasbah: Recipes from My Moroccan Kitchen

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Summer Salad Recipe

Here's a quick summer salad recipe to help use up various vegetables and greens you have in the fridge. Mix and match different veggies and grains for a different variation each time.

2 cups cooked Quinoa, Millet or Rice
1/2 cup cooked beans or chickpeas
4-6 oz Feta Cheese, cubed
2 tbsp Dulce Flakes or crumbled Kale Chips (see earlier recipe on blog)
2 handfuls steamed Fava Beans (taken out of the pods)
1/2 bunch chopped Parsley
1/2 chopped Cucumber
2 green onions, chopped
1 handful steamed broccoli florettes
1/4 fennel bulb, sliced horizontally into chevrons
Any other veggies you have around: Tomatoes, peppers, etc.

Mix together and serve over a bed of greens (e.g. lettuce, Chopped chard and kale, etc.) with olive oil and vinegar. It's a light, filling meal.

Farm activities this month

It's already into the final stretch of July and I haven't done much to update the blog lately. Here's a summary of what's happening at this time of the year.

The fields are a constant challenge to stay on top of -- from weeds and irrigating to constant harvesting, we're experiencing busy days. Luckily the rain has held off and that has made weed management a bit better. Each week there's something new to harvest as well as another item that has gone out of season.

Our farmers market stalls are getting quite full and should be packed in another couple of weeks as we get into beans, sweet onions and tomatoes. The berries continue at full pace and we're getting the first few blueberries off of our new planting of bushes.

The freezer is beginning to fill up with frozen rhubarb and berries. Our rhubarb crop hadn't done well in the spring, but has rebounded. The harvest now will be for Aphrodite's Cafe and Pie Shop in Vancouver.

This weekend we will begin transplanting our winter crops -- cauliflower, broccoli, kale, collards and brussels sprouts. Our final seedings of carrots, parsnips, beets and beans are done. We've turned a corner where at least seeding is largely out of the way.

We're had a couple of challenging crops. We haven't had much luck with corn this year -- the sweet corn has had terrible germination and the crows got a lot of what did come up. It was hardly worth trying to weed in the end, and the beds will likely be used for winter crops. The milling corn will hopefully produce better results.

The impact of the Spotted Wing Drosophilia Fruit Fly still remains to be seen. We're finding them in the fields, but haven't had obvious damage to the fruit to make it unmarketable . . . yet. But we're warning customers about the challenges and offering full refunds on any product that people don't like.

After having to put down a goat earlier in the month due to a lymphatic infection we're now preparing to have all the other goats tested for chronic problems that can make them more susceptible to infections. In the meantime, we're milking two does and getting about 1 gallon of milk each day -- enough for drinking and making regular batches of cheese.

In the fields everything is incredible to watch. As the days shorten, the onions and shallots respond by beginning to develop their bulbs. Our flower patches are humming with activity, attracting millions of beneficial insects that are cleaning up aphids on other crops. Garter Snakes are cleaning up slugs and small rodents in the fields. The farm's new hives of honey bees are busy gathering nectar and pollen -- we should have an excellent blackberry harvest with all the pollination taking place.

In personal news, Jeremy has been accepted by Slow Food Vancouver as a delegate to this fall's Terra Madre celebration in Italy. If you're interested in helping sponsor this hard-working farmer's airfare, he would surely be grateful.

And while Jeremy is in Italy we'll be finishing the final markets and preparing for the growth of our family -- a new baby due on or about 11 November. Winter will, no doubt, be as busy or busier than summer, only in different ways.

Here's hoping your summer is going well -- bountiful gardens, great vacations if you do that kind of thing in the summer, and a great dose of sunshine.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Tailgate Party at the Market

At the last White Rock Farmers Market I worked, Paige, Clara and Roxie showed up part way through for a visit. With Focaccia Bread from Fieldstone Bakery and a bag of Kettle Corn, a tailgate party broke out on the market truck.

Making Valençay Cheese

One of the best parts about having goats has been experimenting with making different cheeses. Recently I set out to make some Valençay cheese -- a soft, mold-ripened goat's milk cheese. Given the time it takes to make and the success of the process, I couldn't help but post some images.

First, the cheeses after draining from the whey. They get sprinkled with ash, which acts as a preservative and helps the skin to dry (along with a sprinkling of salt).

Following a couple of weeks of aging, a white mold (the same type of surface mold you find in camembert or brie) has grown over the ash and the cheese is ready to eat.

We enjoyed our first pyramid with friends amidst a crazy meal with toddlers. The cheese provided at least a moment of focus in an otherwise hectic meal.

Friday, July 2, 2010

"Coyotes gotta eat too"

In my old life (also known as the pre-farm days), I conceptually understood and appreciated that in the balance of life, we all exist within this evolutionary dance of life and death, cycling nutrients from one living organism to another.

As anyone who would take interest in this blog would agree, we have become ever more disconnected from that reality as our food producers become more industrialized and we more interested in strutting down Wall St than cultivating the land. Alas, the situation is not so bleak. Some of us vote with our dollars to participate in a better way of nourishing our communities and ourselves. When I came to the farm, I was one such individual. Caring where my food was coming from, being very intentional about sources, blah blah blah. I had a selective diet that my friend Jacob liked to call "Pretendatarianism". I ate mostly vegetarian with a small amount of chicken and seafood but no red meat. Seafood must fall into the "green" category of my ocean friendly pocket guide and chicken must say "free range organic". I bought my produce at the farmers market whenever possible and made my meals from scratch. I thought I was doing what I could to understand my food, respect the needs of the planet and support local food producers.

And I was, I was doing more than most people do. I was still part of the system though, surrounded by fog and relying on others to tell me what food is good and why. When I bought "Free Range Organic" chicken from the grocery store I imaged happy chickens pecking at the grass, not a big industrial shed with thousands of birds, no windows and a small outdoor playpen like the one I visited earlier this season. I didn't know that there is a government allocation of chickens called "quota" that does not acknowledge a farm of less than 1000 birds (therefore not supporting the scale of farm that could handle having real free range birds). I just listened to the advertisers and let the warm fuzzy feelings engulf me, and realistically, I wanted the chicken so I put my skepticism aside. Was I really that different from the people who are seduced by other claims that advertisers make like "health smart" or "lite" on foods that most of us know are far from it? The bottom line is that I wasn't nearly as connected to the systems that nourish us as I wanted to think I was.

Now here I am, working to produce high quality food, visiting different farms and being part of the discussions. And I am more witness to the "balance of life" now than I ever have been. This is where the good stuff starts, the real reason why I'm here.

A couple nights ago Rosenburg, one of the more affectionate kids (as in goats), was eaten by coyotes. That night I was awake for a portion of the night and heard the coyotes howling like I never have before. The next morning I ran into Rob and he told me that Rosenburg had been eaten. There was a strange energy on the farm that morning, a bit of sadness mixed with acceptance and something I didn't expect; a vital sense of being alive, a crude reminder of life itself. John embodied this more than anyone when he said in an upbeat tone "Well, coyotes gotta eat too". There was an optimism there, he was ok with the fact that we don't always get things our way. Of course this same thing can be infuriating when a crop of carrots is ruined by rust fly but the point stands, we don't get all the food all the time. We are apart of a natural system where the notion of personal property doesn't exist. We are just here, growing food and getting "ripped off" constantly by those who think that we (and all of the food we grow) are all part of this living breathing system.

So goodbye Rosenburg, thank you for reminding us that an honest way of being in the world means you don't always get things your way.